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El Redactor: Ysabel T. L.
Let’s be perfectly honest - we all love to believe that we know all there is to know about ourselves. How can we not? But, in reality, we couldn’t really be any further from the truth. Don’t believe us? Well, in the following article, you’ll come across 7 things you never knew about yourself.


1. Your Perspective on Yourself is Distorted
Don't Know About Yourself

Your “self” lies before you like a book. Just take a peek inside and read: who you are, your likes and dislikes, your fears and hopes; they’re all there, ready to be understood. This is a popular notion, but it’s probably completely false. Psychological research has shown that we don’t have privileged access to who we really are. When we try to assess ourselves accurately, we’re really looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Emily Pronin, a psychologist at Princeton University, New Jersey, who specializes in human self-perception and decision making, calls this mistaken belief in privileged access the “Introspection Illusion.” The way that we view ourselves is distorted, but we just don’t realize it. For example, we might be convinced that we’re empathetic and generous, but still walk right past a homeless person on a freezing cold day.

According to Pronin, the reason for this distorted view is quite simple. Since we don’t want to be arrogant, stingy, or self-righteous, we assume that we’re not any of those things. As evidence, she mentions our divergent views of ourselves and others. We have no issues recognizing how prejudice and unfair our work colleague acts towards another person, but we don’t consider that we could behave in a similar way: because we intend to be morally good, it never occurs to us that we, too, might be prejudiced sometimes.

Pronin assessed her theory in a number of experiments. Among other things, she had her study participants complete a test involving matching faces with personal statements that would supposedly assess their social intelligence. Afterward, some of them were informed that they had failed and were asked to name some weaknesses in the testing procedure. Although the opinions of the subjects were almost certainly biased, most of the other participants said their evaluations were objective.  It was much the same in judging pieces of art, although subjects who used a biased strategy for assessing the quality of paintings, nonetheless believed that their own judgment was balanced. Pronin argues that we are all primed to mask our own biases.

Is the word “introspection” just a nice metaphor? Could it be that we’re not really looking into ourselves, as the Latin root of the word would suggest, but producing a flattering self-image that denies the failings that we all have? The research on self-knowledge has yielded a lot of evidence for this conclusion. However, although we believe that we’re observing ourselves clearly, our self-image is affected by processes that will always remain unconscious.

2. Your Motives Are Often a Complete Mystery to You
Don't Know About Yourself

How well do people know themselves? When trying to answer this question, researchers encounter the following problem: to assess a person’s self-image, one would have to know who that person really is. Investigators use a range of techniques to tackle such tricky questions. For example, they compare the self-assessments of test subjects with the subjects’ behavior in everyday life or laboratory situations. They might ask other people, such as friends or relatives, to assess subjects as well. Furthermore, they probe unconscious inclinations using special methods.

To measure these unconscious inclinations, psychologists can use a method known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed in the 90s by Anthony Greenwald and his colleagues from the University of Washington, to uncover hidden attitudes. Since then, numerous variants have been devised to examine anxiety, sociability, and impulsiveness, among other features. The approach assumes that instantaneous reactions require no reflection. As a result, unconscious parts of the personality come to the fore.

Notably, experimenters seek to determine how closely words that are relevant to a person are linked to certain concepts. For example, participants in a study were asked to push a key as quickly as possible when a word that described a characteristic appeared on the screen. They were also asked to press the same key as soon as they saw a word on the screen that related to themselves. They were told to press a different key as soon as an introverted characteristic appeared or when the word involved someone else. Of course, the words and key combinations were switched over the course of numerous tests. If a reaction was faster when a word associated with the participant followed, it was assumed that that characteristic was probably integral to that person’s self-image.

Such “implicit” self-concepts usually correspond only weakly to assessments of the self that are obtained through questionnaires. The image that people convey of themselves in surveys has little to do with their lightning-fast reactions to emotionally laden words. A person’s implicit self-image is often quite predictive of his or her actual behavior, especially when nervousness or sociability is involved. On the other hand, questionnaires yield better information about such traits as openness or conscientiousness. Mitja Back, a psychologist from the University of Münster, Germany, explains that methods designed to elicit quick automatic responses reflect the habitual or spontaneous components of our personality. Curiosity and conscientiousness, on the other hand, require a degree of thought and can, therefore, be assessed much easier through self-reflection.

3. Outward Appearances Tell People a Lot About You
Don't Know About Yourself

A lot of research indicates that our nearest and dearest often see us better than we see ourselves. Simine Vazire, a psychologist from the University of California, has shown that two conditions, in particular, may enable others to recognize who we truly are most readily: First, when they’re able to read a trait from outward characteristics and, second, when a trait has a clear positive or negative valence. Our own assessments of ourselves most closely match assessments by others when it comes to more neutral characteristics.

The characteristics which are usually most readable by others are those which strongly affect our behavior. For example, people who are naturally sociable like to talk and seek out company; insecurity often manifests in behaviors such as hand-wringing or averting one’s gaze. In contrast, brooding is usually internal, unspooling within the confines of our mind.

We are frequently blind to the effect that we have on others because we simply don’t see our own facial expressions, body languages, and gestures. I’m hardly aware that my blinking eyes indicate stress or that the slump in my postures betrays how heavily something is weighing on me. Therefore, since it’s so hard to observe ourselves, we must rely on the observations of others, especially those who know us well. It’s hard to know who we are unless others let us know how we affect them.

4. Gaining Some Distance Can Help You Know Yourself Better
Don't Know About Yourself

Keeping a diary, pausing for some self-reflection, and having probing conversations with others have a long tradition, but whether these methods enable us to know ourselves better is still up for debate. In fact, sometimes doing the opposite is more helpful as it provides some distances. In 2013, Erika Carlson, now working at the University of Toronto, Canada, reviewed the literature on whether and how mindfulness meditation improves one’s self-knowledge. It helps, she noted, by overcoming two big hurdles: distorted thinking and ego protection. The practice of mindfulness teaches us to let our thoughts drift by and to identify with them as little as possible. Thoughts, after all, are only thoughts and not the absolute truth. Frequently, stepping out of oneself in this way and simply observing what the mind does helps to foster clarity.

Gaining insight into our unconscious motives can enhance emotional well-being. Oliver C. Schultheiss from Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, has shown that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and unconscious motives become more congruent or aligned. For example, we shouldn’t slave away at a career that earns us a lot of money and power if these goals are of little importance to us. However, how do we achieve such harmony? By imagining! For example, try to imagine, as vividly as possible, how things would be if your most fervent wish came true. Would it really make you happier? Often we succumb to the temptation to aim excessively high without taking into account all the steps and effort that are necessary to achieve those ambitious goals.

5. We Too Often Think We Are Better at Something Than We Are
Don't Know About Yourself

Have you heard about the Dunning Kruger effect? It says that the more incompetent people are, the less they’re aware of their incompetence. This effect is named after David Dunning of the University of Michigan and his former doctoral student Justin Kruger – both of whom were honored for this discovery with the satirical Ig Nobel Prize in 2000.

Dunning and Kruger gave their test subjects a number of cognitive tasks and asked them to estimate how well they did. At best, 25% of the participants viewed their performance more or less realistically; only some people underestimated themselves. The quarter of subjects who scored worst on the tests really missed the mark, wildly exaggerating their cognitive abilities. Is it possible that boasting and failing are two sides of the same coin?

As both the researchers emphasize, their work highlights a general feature of self-perception: each of us tends to overlook our cognitive deficiencies. According to Adrian Furnham, a psychologist from the University College London, the statistical correlation between perceived and actual IQ is, on average, only 0.16 – a pretty poor showing, to be frank. By comparison, the correlation between height and sex is about 0.7.

So why is the chasm between would-be and actual performance so huge? Don’t we all have an interest in assessing ourselves accurately? It surely would spare us a great deal of wasted effort and some embarrassment. The answer, it seems, is that a moderate inflation of self-esteem has certain benefits. According to a review by psychologists, Shelly Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Jonathon Brown of the University of Washington, rose-colored glasses tend to increase our sense of well-being and our performance. On the other hand, people afflicted by depression are inclined to be brutally realistic in their self-assessments. An embellished self-image seems to help us weather the ups and downs of life.

6. People Who Tear Themselves down Experience Setbacks More Frequently
Don't Know About Yourself

Although many of our contemporaries harbor excessively positive views of their honesty or intelligence, some people suffer from the opposite distortion: they belittle themselves. Experiencing a lot of contempt and belittlement during childhood, often associated with abuse and violence, can trigger this type of negativity – which, in turn, can limit what people can achieve, leading to distrust, despair, and even suicidal tendencies.

It may seem logical to think that people with a negative self-image would be just the ones who want to overcompensate, but as psychologists working with William Swann of the University of Texas at Austin discovered, many people full of self-doubt seek confirmation of their distorted self-perception. Swann described this in a study on contentment in marriage. He asked some couples about their own strengths and weaknesses, the ways they felt valued and supported by their partner, and how happy they were in their marriage. As expected, those who had a more positive attitude toward themselves found greater satisfaction in their marriage the more they received praise and recognition from their partner. However, those who habitually picked on themselves felt safer in their marriage when their partner reflected their negative image back to them. They did not look for respect or appreciation.

Swann based his theory of self-verification on these findings. The theory states that we want others to see us the way that we see ourselves. In some instances, people actually provoke others to respond negatively to them so as to show how worthless they are. This behavior is not necessarily masochism. It’s symptomatic of the desire for coherence: if others respond to us in a way that confirms what we think of ourselves, then the world is as it should be.

Likewise, those people who believe themselves to be failures will go out of their way not to succeed, contributing actively to their own undoing. They’ll miss meetings, neglect doing assigned work, and get into hot water with the boss. Swann’s approach actually contradicts Dunning and Kruger’s theory of overestimation, but both camps are probably right: hyper-inflated egos are certainly common, but negative self-images are not uncommon.

7. Insecure People Tend to Behave More Morally
Don't Know About Yourself

Insecurity is generally thought of as a drawback, but it’s not all bad. People who feel insecure about whether they have some positive trait tend to do their utmost to prove that they do have it. For example, those who are unsure about their generosity are more likely to donate to a good cause. This behavior can be elicited experimentally by giving subjects negative feedback – for instance, “According to the tests, you’re less helpful and cooperative than average.” People don’t like hearing such judgements and end up feeding the donation box.

Drazen Prelec, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains such findings with his theory of self-signaling: what a particular action says about me is often more important than the action’s actual objective. On the other hand, it has been established that those who are sure that they’re generous, sociable, or intelligent make less effort to prove it. Too much self-assurance makes people complacent and increases the gap between the self that they imagine and the self that’s real. Therefore, those who believe they know themselves well are particularly apt to know themselves less well than they think.  

Source: scientificamerican
Images: depositphotos 

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